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To the Editor:
I observed and participated in the recent Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) public hearing opened on Monday, Nov. 9 regarding Hemisphere Development Group LLC 40B application for the old JB Thomas Hospital site in the Emerson Park neighborhood.
I would like to commend Chairwoman Fran Gallugi and the members of the board for the way they are conducting the hearing. It is clear that the members of this volunteer board are taking their time to review all aspects of this project and have made every indication that they will continue to do their due diligence to work with the residents and the developer to negotiate a project that is acceptable and manageable for that location.
Chapter 40B is meant to be a tool for collaborative decisions between a city and a developer in order to achieve a meaningful goal to provide needed housing. This project as submitted is a blatantly “unfriendly” 40B, but it does not have to remain as such.
We have entered the negotiation phase of the 40B process which is where the ZBA has the authority to approve the application as submitted, approve with conditions or changes, or deny the application altogether.
ZBA member and former City Councilor Barry Osborne, set the tone early by reminding the developer’s 40B attorney, Peabody resident and former Chair of the ZBA, Jason Panos, who exactly is in charge here: Fran Gallugi and the ZBA.
Barry rightfully asserted that the ZBA is in fact the decision-making authority for comprehensive permits, not any individual or individual department in City Hall; it is the ZBA that must be satisfied with the proposed project. I was pleased to hear the residents reassured that the impact this project has on their quality of life and the impact on the entire city is of vital concern to the Board.
I am confident that when judicious minds sit down to hash out the many concerns presented by a project of this magnitude at that location, fair negotiations between the developer and the granting authority will result in a sensible development with respect to its ultimate size and density while still allowing for a reasonable profit for the developer. Should this goal not be met and the developer is dissatisfied with the ZBA’s decision should their proposal be rejected, reduced in size and scale, or attached with conditions or changes, the petitioner may seek recourse by appealing the board’s decision with the State Housing Appeals Committee (HAC).
Contrary to what those in favor of this development wish us to believe, applying to HAC is not an automatic approval. On the contrary, the HAC also tries to take local concerns into consideration and will look long and hard at a blatantly “unfriendly” 40B proposal.
Nonetheless, the process is a long one but I know that the members of the ZBA will do their very best to be the bridge, through negotiations, from an unfriendly to a friendly project suitable for that area, and I thank them for their effort and service to the city.
Councilor at Large, Peabody